Protests return to Iraq despite new PM’s assurances
Even as Iraqi courts were ordering the release of anti-government protestors who had been detained during the popular uprising since last October, large crowds gathered once again in Tahrir Square in order to reinvigorate the demands for better living conditions and dismantling the existing political system. This after the recent inauguration of Mustafa al-Kadhimi as Prime Minister on May 7, which was supposed to end the six months of political turmoil the country had been under.
He immediately announced the release of non-violent protestors and justice and compensation for the families of the over 600 protestors killed due to the forces’ use of tear gas and live rounds. He also reinstated and promoted popular general and intelligence chief General Abdulwahab al-Saadi. It was his abrupt dismissal in September last year by former caretaker prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi which kickstarted the massive protests that snowballed into the PM’s resignation. Two others – Mohamed Tawfiq Allawi and Adnan al Zurfi – tried unsuccessfully before him to form the government.
While the new PM has also called on the parliament to expedite new electoral laws that would be required for early polls, the protests remain dissatisfied at what they call a new government under the same old, discredited political class. The launch of these fresh protests, days after the formation of the fresh government continue to echo the previous demands of better economic opportunity and public services, an end to the political sectarian system and corruption, and the immediate call for fair elections.
On Sunday, unrest returned to central Baghdad which had been quiet since the restrictions applied following the coronavirus pandemic. The surviving pockets of protestors flared up into the hundreds after a call given out a day before demanding the ‘fall of the regime’. Young men had returned to the epicentre of the previous protest, blocking roads and setting fire to tyres. Some headed to Al-Jumhuriya Bridge, which leads to the high-security green zone that hosts government buildings and embassies. Here they proceeded to throw stones and Molotov cocktails as they seized control of the first barrier. Stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons were used by Iraqi security forces to push them back and prevent them from crossing to the other side. AFP quoted a source in the health department as saying that apart from the 20 protestors who had suffered breathing difficulties from the gas, there were no other casualties.
The new government in Iraq is not even a few days old and already the anti-government protests of last year have reignited.